Published: 06:00, 01 August 2020
The sound of willow striking leather and the gentle hum of the crowd has been a soundtrack of summers for generations across the county.
With cricket grounds awaking from their slumber – albeit with the lack of crowds – a new book celebrating some of Kent's most prestigious grounds marks a milestone year for Kent County Cricket Club as the professional county game finally kicks off.
Gravesend author and Kent fan Howard Milton has worked with fellow cricket lover Peter Francis to compile a history of the 18 grounds used by Kent during the club's century and a half in existence.
The book has been 40 years in the making and is a major piece of history detailing the club's illustrious – but also the less successful – past.
Howard, 74, who has been honorary statistician of Kent County Cricket Club since 1977, said: "The Kent Cricket Heritage Trust wanted to do something for the Kent 150 commemoration.
"Much of the material was already to hand and I was keen to use it. Peter, who had been chasing me for years to update my work on the subject, immediately came on board.
"Cricket grounds are poorly treated in cricket literature and sport as a whole in local history generally. This is rather odd given how important they are in supporters’ lives.
"The big Test grounds, notably Lord’s, are subjects because of what there are, but down to county level is another matter.
"Kent, where cricket is the “national” sport, is famous for its many grounds used down the years. But unless the host club has produced an anniversary booklet or the like, and then it is primarily on the players, a record of the ground’s history just does not exist."
Howard and Peter – a lifetime member of Kent since retiring in 2004 and committee member of the Kent supporters' club – have set out to change the lack of history for five of the county's previous homes.
Catford, Dover, Folkestone, Tonbridge and West Malling are among Kent's 18 major venues never to have had their history recorded.
All are featured in the book with a wealth of archive and present day photographs depicting the beloved game being played at those grounds.
Howard, a former Gravesend Grammar School pupil, says the project was made more difficult by the lack of documentary evidence, particularly postcards and pictures, of the county's home grounds.
He says much of the written history and images are of players rather than the hallowed turf on which they trod.
One exemption Howard says is Tunbridge Wells which was particularly popular with visitors and the Nevill Ground featured more prominently.
"But otherwise they just do not exist certainly not before the 1950s and 1960s when Jennings published a series on most of the grounds then being used," Howard added. "Even then Gravesend was not included and there are no known postcards of that ground.
"The search for 'missing' information was centred on local history collections in numerous public libraries across Kent.
"There is generation of local studies librarians who came up trumps in pointing me in the right direction or even getting stuck in themselves. I have noted two in the acknowledgements, both sadly no longer with us."
The book which holds a wealth of information, statistics, records and historical information and stories, is Howard's fourteenth publication on cricket in the Garden of England – including one published by the Kent Messenger in 2000.
But even as an author of two official Kent CCC histories, Howard was left surprised by what he saw during his research for the new title.
"It had been a while since I had been to Dartford and Folkestone and so was taken aback with the developments on both grounds," he said.
"The Three Hills Sports Park at Folkestone is quite a sight. As was on my first visit there, the Polo Farm Sports Ground outside Canterbury."
The book is priced £25 and £20 for Kent CCC, Kent County Cricket Supporters Club and Kent Cricket Heritage Trust members plus £6 postage.
Alternatively, contact Peter Francis with a cheque payable to him at 34 Park Avenue, Maidstone, Kent ME14 5HL.